Thursday, January 31, 2013

The best brunch dish you've never had

If you want to make your weekend truly spectacular, then make this saturday night and bake it up sunday for brunch, lunch or even dinner. I've been sitting on this recipe for weeks now; I made it for some friends for brunch several weekends ago and it was such a hit that I have been waiting for inspirational words that adequately describe this dish's awesomeness. None have come. So I guess you'll just have to trust my hyperbole, and go ahead and make it. Use some good quality bread (day-old, or fresh bread dried out in a warm oven), use good mushrooms, keep the stems out of your kale or escarole, and you'll have the best brunch dish ever. Promise.

I served it with a salad of local organic greens with a lemon mustard dressing and a wintry citrus fruit salad. And for dessert I made meringue kisses with the leftover egg whites from the strata.

Wild Mushroom, Winter Greens and Parmesan Strata

adapted from Sara Moulton

Serves 6 - 8 

6 cups 1/2 inch cubes of day-old bread
6 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 cups lightly packed escarole or kale, inner ribs removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 medium shallots, sliced
3/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, small ones left whole, larger ones cut in half or thirds
3/4 cup oyster mushrooms, small ones left whole, larger ones cut in half or thirds
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place bread in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish or roasting pan. Whisk together yolks, eggs and flour in a medium bowl. Whisk in milk, cream and thyme. Pour mixture over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic and greens. Cook, stirring, until greens are wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove greens from skillet and discard garlic clove. Set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Add the shallots and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are browned, about 5 minutes.

Stir greens, mushrooms, shallots and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese into the soaked bread. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Bake until browned and set, 35-40 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes at room temperature. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pretty darn good chili

I must start this with a confession. I normally hate chili. With the grand exception of my mom's white bean turkey chili, I have always managed to avoid eating it whenever it has been forced upon me. I'm not sure where my aversion comes from. Perhaps it's the tendency for it to appear as a topping for anything from hot dogs to nachos? Perhaps the oil that pools on its surface? I am usually just not ever a fan.

So when baby boy sat at the restaurant table devouring chili off my mom's plate, it was with not a little bit of hesitation that I ordered chili-making accoutrements last week. The kidney beans were staring me in the face all week long whenever I opened the cupboard, just daring me to take them down and introduce them to some chili powder. I successfully ignored their existence. Finally, with a dwindling fridge and a strong desire to avoid grocery shopping, I made chili today. And it was GOOD! And SO easy. So easy and so good that I feel compelled to share.

Olivia's pretty darn good, simple Chili

I used water because DH had drank all the Guinness that I stock for baking/cooking (how dare he!) Next time I am going to try 1 bottle of dark beer and also am going to grate a tablespoon or so of unsweetened chocolate in to the mix. I think the whole point and joy of chili is that anything goes!

Loosely based on a recipe from the bible, aka Joy of Cooking, 2006 edition

Serves 3-4

1 500-gram (18 oz) pack ground beef, not lean
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 400-gram (16 oz) can chopped tomatoes
1 400-gram (16 oz) can kidney beans, with liquid
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chilpolte
10 black peppercorns
1 cup water or 1 small bottle of dark beer

In a small Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown the beef and cook until cooked through. Add the onion and cook for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and the beans (with the liquid - do not drain!), cook for a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low, put the lid on, and simmer for 2 hours. Serve with skillet cornbread.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The best Mac and Cheese, period.

Growing up I never really cooked. I baked, and I baked a lot, but I wasn't too interested in roasting chickens or making pasta sauce. I did know how to poach, fry and scramble an egg by age 12 (that's a story for another time), but my true love in the kitchen was anything sweet.

But when I graduated college a semester early to move out to Tahoe with my (then) boyfriend (now husband), and moved into a house he shared with two other guys, I decided I needed to learn to cook. So he and his friends became my guinea pigs. The mac and cheese I first made for them (my first ever) was the baked mac and cheese out of The Joy of Cooking. (Then, as now, my Bible.) It involves making roux to make a white sauce, which needs to be simmered forever, to which is then added cheese, then cooked pasta. It's fairly simple and good stuff, but when you're making mac and cheese.... it really should be simpler.

Cue a marriage, a cross-Atlantic move, and then a pregnancy. When I was five months along I discovered this recipe in a back-issue of Bon Appetit. (The same issue that has my favorite Shepard's pie. I digress.) I discovered this recipe, and like every pregnant woman who ever read a recipe for mac and cheese, I made said recipe. And thank goodness I did, because it. is. awesome. It rocks everybody's world. Including mac and cheese haters. (They do exist. I had one over for dinner a few nights ago, served her this, and converted her.)

Not only is it divine, it is also super easy to make - you do kind of have to make a roux, but it is a rough one that goes straight into everything else, and it's not hard or scary so why even throw that intimidating french term in there?

If you want to make this tonight but don't have the marscapone, then hold off. This needs the marscapone. It also really needs some good, strong cheddar. Save the half cheddar, half mozzarella mix for your English muffin pizzas, and give this dish the real deal. However, if you want to substitute the pancetta for, say, some Vermont maple cured applewood smoked bacon - then go ahead and be my guest. It's just as delicious. I know.

Baked Mac and Cheese with Pancetta and Leek

adapted from Matthew Porco

Make sure you use a large and deep skillet to make the cheese sauce in - the skillet should be able to hold the contents of a 13x9x2 inch dish. And remember, the most important part of mac and cheese is the cheese - don't skimp on quality or quantity for this dish!

Serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8-10 as a side dish

8 tablespoons butter, divided 
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta or very good-quality bacon, coarsely chopped 
3 large leeks, washed well, sliced lengthwise, then horizontally into 1/8 inch slices, white and pale green parts only
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper 
1 garlic clove, minced 
1/4 cup all purpose flour 
3 1/2 cups (or more) whole milk 
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese 
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese 
1 8- to 8.8-ounce container marscapone cheese
1 1/2 cups panko
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1 pound orecchiette 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. 

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta or bacon; sauté until crisp. Add leeks to the same pan; sauté until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic; stir 1 minute. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter; allow to melt, then add flour and whisk it into everything for about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 3 1/2 cups milk; simmer until thick enough to coat spoon thickly, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in cheeses. If necessary (it never has been for me), whisk in more milk by 1/4 cupfuls until sauce is thick but pourable. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and stir until very light golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain well. Add pasta to the warm cheese mixture. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over. Bake mac and cheese until heated through and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.